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Tornado strikes west Newton County
School damaged, power lines downed, vehicles overturned
Veterans Memorial Middle School - tornado damage
Veterans Memorial Middle School was struck by a tornado Friday, Dec. 31, 2021. (Special | Newton County Schools)

COVINGTON, Ga. — Residents ushered in 2022 with a terrifying twist as a tornado touched down in Newton County on Friday evening.

Power lines were downed, vehicles overturned, trees uprooted and a school building damaged as result of the New Year’s Eve storm. Only a handful of minor injuries were reported. 

Initial reports from county officials and a Newton County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson confirmed the tornado swept through the intersection of Salem and Brown Bridge Road around 6 p.m. on Friday. 

Several power lines and even a handful of vehicles in and around a nearby Chick-fil-A restaurant parking lot were upended. 

One reader, Aryy Tobon, sent in a photo of a tree that had been uprooted and blocked the exits from Publix supermarket on Brown Bridge Road.

Newton County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Caitlin Jett said there were only a handful of minor injuries reported, as of 6:40 p.m.

Kerwin and Lauren Greene, residents of Covington who submitted some tornado damage photos, said it seemed like the twister turned up in the blink of an eye with little-to-no notice.

"There was no warning, no emergency siren," Lauren Greene said. "Just a few flicker [of] the power going off and on, and then … see the photos.”

The National Weather Service in Peachtree City issued a tornado warning at about 5:45 p.m. for parts of Morgan, Newton and Walton counties including Covington, Oxford and Social Circle.

Veterans Memorial Middle School, located at 13357 Brown Bridge Road, suffered significant damage. Jett said a portion of the school's roof was taken off by the twister. 

No one was inside the building at the time of the incident, a Newton County Schools spokesperson said. 

Chief Operations Officer Michael Barr said there appeared to be no structural damage but cleanup would be required before students returned Tuesday.

Barr, as well as Principal Takila Curry and other NCSS Operations staff, went to the school shortly after the storm hit, spokesperson Sherri Partee said.

"We are very fortunate this occurred when school was closed and no one was on campus,” Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey said. “The damage can be repaired. We’re just thankful that no one was there, and that we have no injuries to report. We will work to get the debris cleared and ensure the school is safe for students to return on Tuesday.”

After the tornado touched down in west Newton, the storm cell could be seen headed toward the city of Covington and into the Social Circle area. No damage from those two specific areas was reported.

Ann Wolfe Wildmon, of WildArt Gallery on the Covington Square, sent photos of the funnel cloud as seen from the downtown area. 

She said she had just led her final paint party of the year when she walked out her front door and "could see (a) weird dark cloud down Washington Street.

"It had little gray spirals downward,” Wildmon said. “When it changed colors at the bottom to more brownish, I heard sirens."

Wildmon said she pulled some tourists from North Carolina into her gallery as the alarms sounded.

"I trust a building built in 1890," she said. "(I) watched it scoot behind the courthouse. Once it got near Hwy. 278, it got darker."

At approximately 8:30 p.m., the National Weather Service officially ruled the storm a tornado. A survey of the storm was completed Saturday.

County Chairman Marcello Banes, who was at the site of significant damage at the intersection of Salem and Brown Bridge Road shortly after the storm passed, said Newton County was fortunate there was no loss of life.

“Through it all, it is my understanding that we didn’t have any loss of life,” Banes said in a video message on social media. “And so we’re thanking God for that. I’m so thankful to our sheriff, Sheriff Ezell Brown, and the deputies on the scene. They were out and they were doing what they do. You know, they see trouble and then they run towards trouble, and they help in the times of trouble. Our fire department and chief Mike Conner; I’m so thankful for them as well … Our EMA Department. I’m so thankful for Jody Nolan and his team. Our Public Works Department … We’re just so thankful that our first responders were able to get there and assess everything and make sure everybody was OK.”

Banes also thanked the crews of Snapping Shoals EMC for their efforts.

“Again, we’re just so thankful because it could’ve been another way,” Banes said. “We’re just so thankful to God that it wasn’t.

“The families that were injured in this, we want to ask Newton County to please cover them in prayer,” he added. “We understand that there was someone that we think had some broken ribs, and someone that broke their wrist. But God is so amazing. He covered this community. Any time something like [this] actually hits your community … it’s hard to not have a loss of life, but the Lord spared everyone here.”

News Editor Tom Spigolon contributed to this article.